Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

9. Memorandum from Friends, Families and Travellers Advice and Information Unit

  We have been asked by Jodie Reed to forward you the following comments in response to the idea of a Human Rights Commission. We would like to see a Children's Rights Commissioner within this structure and think that will have many benefits for Traveller children. Please find the enclosed leaflet Advice and Information Unit explaining the work of our organisation. We strongly support the establishment of a Human Rights Commission in order that we can address some of the abuses of Human Rights faced by the Travelling Community. The main points we would raise in relation to Gypsies and Travellers are as follows:

    —  Accommodation and Site Provision: It is estimated that about a third of all Travelling families have nowhere to legally station their vehicles, which leaves the Travelling Community no alternative but unauthorised encampments and the endless cycle of evictions that go with this. This is extremely stressful for the families involved, many of whom have children in school and other reasons for residing in a particular area. This would contravene Article 8. Right to Respect for Private and Family Life. We would like to see a choice and range of accommodation available to the Travelling Community, comparable to that of the settled population.

    —  Planning: The role of land use planning is discriminatory towards Gypsies and Travellers, the repeal of the 1968 Caravans Act was based on the notion that Travellers could provide for themselves. The reality is that most applications to planning are turned down and about 70% are subsequently lost at appeal, this is assuming that they have the necessary finances for purchasing a site. It is necessary to reflect the needs of Travellers at three different levels of policy within the planning system; at the Strategic and Regional Planning levels; Area Plans and Development Control Advice Notes. If the planning system was supportive of meeting the planning needs of Travellers and this was in parity with efforts to facilitate residential needs of the settled community, it would be expected that clear guidance would be found at each level.

    —  Right to a Fair Trial (Article 6): The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 Section 61 is incompatible with the right to a fair trial. We would like to see a test case put forward to the European Court of Human rights.

    —  Denial of access to public services: Although theoretically the Travelling community are entitled to the same public services as the settled community, the reality is that many of the community are severely marginalised and experience a high degree of social exclusion.

  If we are to see an end to their social exclusion, then it is essential that the main issues are addressed. Fundamentally, this comes down to lack of site provision and the issues surrounding accommodation and planning. The vast majority of public services are geared towards sedentary society, and though there have been some innovative projects at grassroots level to address the needs of the nomadic population, they have tended to be small scale and one offs. It is imperative that we have a national co-ordinated approach to Traveller issues and services; for example nationally co-ordinated hand held health records would enable Travellers resorting to different local authorities to facilitate access to up-to-date medical records.

  Any UK Human Rights Commission would need to consider cultural as well as racial needs, which of course does not currently cover the many New Travellers who also experience wide spread discrimination in their pursuit of a nomadic life style.

  In response to the above points made we would welcome a Human Rights Commission and in particular a Children's Commissioner. We would urge that there is a need for a separate Children's Office for the following reasons:

    —  The application of the Convention of Rights for Children is a specialised area, requiring a complex understanding of the exchanges between UK and European Court Rulings and International Treaties; this would best be achieved within a dedicated office within the Human Rights Commission.

    —  If the Commission is to be accessible to children, it must appeal to them at all levels. It is also essential that staff are police checked and able to deal with child protection issues, which are almost certain to arise.

  If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.

21 November 2002

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